Mariners interpreter keeps players from getting lost in translation

Jun 17, 2016, 10:50 AM | Updated: 5:38 pm

Interpreter Antony Suzuki (l) helps facilitate an interview with Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma a...

Interpreter Antony Suzuki (l) helps facilitate an interview with Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and Seattle Times baseball reporter Ryan Divish. (AP)


The Seattle Mariners are back in action Friday night, opening a crucial series in Boston against the Red Sox.

Win or lose, starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma will have to answer to the media afterwards. But ultimately, it’ll be someone else we hear from — longtime interpreter Antony Suzuki.

It’s been that way ever since Suzuki came to Seattle to work with Ichiro and Kenji Johjima years ago. Surprisingly, the Hawaii native actually didn’t speak much Japanese when he moved to that country as a teenager.

“It was miserable,” he laughed. “I got to live there for about ten years and I picked up the language as I got older.”

Suzuki got his start while he was working with an import/export company doing a lot of baseball business. Through some connections, he got an offer to go to San Diego and work as a translator for the Padres.

Suzuki’s Japanese was pretty good, as was his Pidgin — the Hawaiian language that mixes English with localized words and phrases. There was just one problem.

“When I first started in San Diego our PR director was so mad because my English was broken. And I told the PR guy hey, I’m from Hawaii and this is how I learned the language and he had to fix a lot of my terms and all that. It was hard,” Suzuki said.

But things became easier over the years, and one day he got a call to come north to Seattle and work with one of the game’s biggest stars — his idol Ichiro.

In Japan, he’s known as the god of baseball. Everyone looks at him as the idol including myself,” he said of Ichiro. “It was amazing to work and be close to this guy to pick his brain and know what he’s like, how he works, how he’s wired.”

Suzuki found himself in the middle of a media storm, facing dozens of reporters and cameras before and after every game following Ichiro’s every move.

“And when you interpret, it’s not just about words. You have to understand how they feel and you have to express their feelings in your own words and that’s not easy because everything’s done on the fly,” he said.

And it’s not a job that stops at the ballpark.

“You have to take care of their family, you have to take care of off-field stuff. Because that’s the only way you can gain their trust, I believe. That’s how I approach it. You take care of them as a human being.”

Being a human being, Antony admits he’s made more than his fair share of mistakes. He refuses to disclose what they were.

“We all make mistakes, but you learn from your failures,” he said.

That goes for the players as well.

“I tell all the players ‘speaking the language is not easy.’ It’s their second language, being at their age, you make mistakes. It’s about making mistakes and not being ashamed of that. Because once you start to feel that way you go back in your shell and you stop trying to learn,” he said.

From Ichiro to Iwakuma, many of the longer serving foreign players can speak at least some English. But Antony says it’s much more comfortable for them to stick with their native language — and let him ultimately decide how it comes across.

“For the most part, I stay consistent and honest with what they say. I don’t try to change the subject or any of that. Sometimes you do have to sugar coat because the nuance is different … you have to kind of have a good idea of what you’re doing, what you’re saying for the player,” Suzuki said.

With all that pressure, Antony admits he often takes his work home with him. It can even carry over to his dreams.

“Sometimes it’s in English, sometimes it’s in Japanese. Sometimes I don’t know what language it is,” he laughed.

But the language of baseball is universal. So when it comes to the game and Antony Suzuki, very little gets lost in translation.

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Mariners interpreter keeps players from getting lost in translation